U.S. air travel finally topped pre-pandemic levels this year, erasing a historic decline and fueling a broad rebound for the airline industry and tourism.
It’s a different story at Portland International Airport, where passenger volumes are still nearly 18% below 2019. It’s one more way in which Portland has been slower than other parts of the country to return to normal after COVID-19.
Approximately 1.4 million people flew through Portland last month, up 7% from May 2022 and the highest tally in 40 months. The Port of Portland, which runs PDX, says June has been even busier – recording 7 of the airport’s 8 busiest days since the pandemic this month.
Those are hopeful signs but severely lag the national figures, which show air travel through the first five months of the year was up slightly from 2019.
What’s holding PDX back?
Portland tourism declined precipitously during the pandemic. Visitor spending in the city was $5.2 billion last year, according to the latest data from Travel Portland.
That’s an increase of $1.5 billion from 2021 but still below the $5.6 billion visitors spent in 2019, reflecting diminished perceptions of Portland’s appeal and a steep decline in business travel.
“California business travel demand has been deeply impacted by the shift to more remote working in both states, and the decline in travel demand from the tech industries,” port spokesperson Kelley Bonsall wrote in an email.
Portland also suffers because of its status as a regional airport rather than a major hub, according to Bonsall. Amid a prolonged pilot shortage, she said airlines prioritize their hubs over spokes like PDX.
Some prominent routes haven’t returned at all. Portland has no direct flights to anywhere in Asia, though the port expects one route to begin flying next spring – contingent on business travel picking up.
The port says PDX’s outlook is improving as summer begins. Portland has more direct flights to Europe than ever before, with daily flights to Amsterdam and London and seasonal flights to Frankfurt and Reykjavik.
American Airlines and Alaska Airlines have each just announced direct flights between Portland and Miami, beginning this fall. And the port said more than 1 million passengers flew to Mexico and Hawaii last year, the airport’s highest totals ever.
So while other routes continue to lag, Oregonians’ appetite for sunny getaways appears undiminished.
This is Oregon Insight, The Oregonian’s weekly look at the numbers behind the state’s economy. View past installments here.
— Mike Rogoway | [email protected] |
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